There was a sense of relief attached to NCIS Season 11 Episode 7.
The case of the week involved the killing of Marine Sergeant Michael Dawson in what at first appeared to be a robbery gone bad.
After a bit of misdirection and an interrogation of Dawson's off-the-wagon Narcotics Anonymous friend, the team discovered that the store owner (weirdly referred to as "Spiffy") where the sergeant was murdered was the NA friend's drug dealer. They discovered that Spiffy was the shooter.
However, the dynamic between Gibbs and his father proved to be the more compelling story.
Don't know about you, but when Jackson told Gibbs that he was on his way to visit an old friend, I anticipated a scenario where the friend had actually died years ago and that Jackson was suffering from dementia.
The jury's not completely out on that: Jackson mentioned that he had gotten "turned around" after finding the gas station closed. Of course, we all get a little turned around sometimes when driving in a strange town, and maybe the sun wasn't out, which would have made it even more difficult to figure out directions.
Dementia is only one of many possibilities. Yet, that's where the writers took Gibbs, I believe, and where we were intended to go as well.
It was clear that Gibbs was acutely worried about his father, even though his face gave nothing away - except when he spilled his worries on to Ducky:
Gibbs: There's no right way to be his son.
Ducky: Just as there is no right way for you to act as his father. The pain of watching a parent age is unlike any other. I vividly remember the first time my mother needed help brushing her hair.
Gibbs: It's backwards.
Ducky: It certainly feels like that. But in the end, well, it's simply life.
I can't think of another such complicated - and therefore real - father-son relationship on TV right now. Gina Monreal - who wrote this episode - deserves high praise for getting it right.
Exasperation, worry, anger and ultimately respect and love all made an appearance between these two fine actors. The captivating performances of Mark Harmon and Ralph Waite warrant a high rating for this installment.
We learned more about Gibbs through his father than we would normally see. Beyond the worry and concern there's a core of regret that came through. We saw it every time his dad said a variation of "can't you just stay with me for a bit?"
Regret and guilt kept Gibbs by his side, and regret in particular made an appearance here when Jackson spoke of his own past and Gibbs empathized with him:
Gibbs: Dad, German? That's the most important part.
Jackson: No, son. The important thing was that we were both fliers. We were brothers up there. We were the same. We're all the same. But we keep fighting each other. Walter told me that he saved me that day because he wanted to remind himself who he was. He's dying, and all he can see is the people he killed, over ideas that weren't even his. He can't forgive himself.
Gibbs: That's not an easy thing to do, Dad.
I think that a lot of guys who were close to their fathers felt the pride and pain all wrapped up in the final hospice scene when Jackson introduced Walter to Leroy Gibbs. What son wouldn't want to hear those words? He's a good man. He's the best person I know.
Yet, as always, Gibbs was inscrutable, preferring to keep his visible emotions in check. Classic. Completely in character.
The third storyline in the episode had to do with Tony and McGee. Seems like their sibling rivalry dynamic is coming to a head: whereas Tony has always seemed to play the alpha in their relationship, McGee's precarious patience with him has come to an end.
That thing with the yogurt was deliberate: McGee's not the type of guy to take food from the fridge that doesn't belong to him. I'm guessing he knew it was Tony's and ate it anyway.
You may have noticed that only once did Tony refer to McGee with a McName. Most of the time he referred to him simply as "Tim."
This is a signal - although it's hard to know what exactly it signifies. Is it a maturity thing with Tony, a reduction in his "team clown" deal? Or does it signal a change in his stance toward McGee? Or maybe it's both? My money's on the maturity angle.
Tony wants to be taken seriously and just doesn't find as much joy in ribbing McGee as he used to. He still does - it's become a bit of a habit - but it's not as intense. The resolution of the power struggle, where they both agreed to take point on the case, and where they spent part of a night watching Beaches together was both funny and interesting.
I hope the writers keep taking them down that road, where they see each other as equals instead of rivals.
- The episode title "Better Angels" has multiple meanings: the German angel who guided Jackson to safety; Jackson's view of Leroy Gibbs as somewhat of an angel who helps people; and Jackson Gibbs' call sign during the war: "Golden Angel." I think I'd like to add Ducky to that distinguished list.
- Even though his work had nothing to do with his death, Sergeant Dawson's work as a code breaker at the DCS served as a viewer history lesson on the Navajo Code Talkers - a fascinating story that can consume a few hours on the internet, for those interested.
- Jackson's back story served to put an interesting spin on the dynamic between soldiers (and in this case, pilots) during wartime, although usually that dynamic is put in terms of fellow armed forces folk fighting on the same side. Soldiers rarely fight for a cause; they fight for each other, to get each other home safe. In this case, a German pilot saw an opportunity to bring a balance for all the death he had caused by guiding Gibbs' father to safety.
- Delilah is well and truly in Abby's camp now, providing information on the side to her, information to which NCIS would not normally be privy.
- This episode's NCIS quotes captures a number of interesting and illuminating moments of the show.
What do you think of this episode? What's your impression or worry about Jackson Gibbs? What are your thoughts on Tony and McGee?
Douglas Wolfe was a staff writer for TV Fanatic. He retired in 2016. Follow him on Twitter.